Transcript: Sen. Tom Cotton on "Face the Nation," Nov. 19, 2017

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, a strong supporter of the Trump administration, joined "Face the Nation" Sunday and helped us dive into the political dynamics of the GOP amid the push for tax reform and the Roy Moore controversy in the Alabama special election.  

What are the Republican Party's options if Moore wins the election on December 12? Will he face immediate expulsion?  

What follows is a transcript of the interview with Cotton, which aired Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: If Roy Moore does get elected to the Senate, the next move is up to his Senate colleagues. We're joined now by one potential Republican colleague, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Senator Cotton, I want to talk to you about tax reform in a moment. But let's talk about this Moore situation for a moment. Cory Gardner, one of your Republican colleagues who's in charge of getting Republicans elected, said that the Senate should expel Moore if he wins and is sent to Washington. Would you support that?  

TOM COTTON: Well, John, first, let me take a step back from Roy Moore and speak in general about sexual harassment and sexual assault. It's a very serious matter. It has no place on the job, no place in our society. I think sadly too many women have faced that over the course of their lives. And it's not a partisan issue. There are misbehaving men in both the Democratic and Republican parties. And unfortunately there are female victims in both parties as well.

It's not even a political matter. I mean, it's happened in your industry, in the media. It's happened in Hollywood. It happens in business. So I think it's important that women feel, once they've been subject to sexual harassment and especially sexual assault, that they can come forward now since, you know, the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke about a month ago or so. And that's a good thing.

And that's a good change in the norms and the expectations of our society. As far as Roy Moore goes, I'm not going to speculate about hypotheticals about what may happen should he win. We're only three weeks out from the election. He made it pretty clear this week that he's not going to step aside. So as you said in your intro, it's going to be up to the people of Alabama to make that decision.

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Sen. Tom Cotton, Nov. 19, 2017.

CBS News

JOHN DICKERSON: You said you wouldn't encourage the people of Alabama to vote for him. What's better for Senate Republicans: If Roy Moore wins and comes to Washington as a Republican or if a Democrat wins in that race?

TOM COTTON: What's better for Senate Republicans, what's better for the American people is that we focus on the work ahead of us, which is the tax bill that cuts middle class taxes. It cuts taxes on businesses and repeals the hated Obamacare mandate. I'll leave it to the people of Alabama to make the decision about Roy Moore and Doug Jones.

JOHN DICKERSON: Before we get to taxes, let me ask about this norm- these norms you're talking about that have changed because of this change- historic change in American culture, which as you say is going across corporations, the media, Congress. So Al Franken faces a moment now. What is the emerging standard in terms of how you assess these accusations that comes forward for somebody?

TOM COTTON: I think it's hard to generalize about all cases in general because each case is particular. Different kinds of allegations. Different kinds of conduct. Different kinds of evidence. So I think it's important that we take the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault seriously and that we take each case on its individual merits and evaluate them carefully.

JOHN DICKERSON: And finally on this, the new norms, a lot of people have said, "Well, there were a dozen or so accusers for President Trump." Should these new norms cause a reevaluation of those who came forward and said that he had assaulted them or done inappropriate things with them?

TOM COTTON: Well, it happened in the middle of the campaign last year, John. And the American people had their say on that as well. And I think what's important is that we take all these things seriously and that we move forward. In each individual case we have people who are charged with weighing the evidence, whether it's a court of law in a sexual harassment case, whether it's the Senate Ethics Committee, as Al Franken has said. But it's hard to generalize.

JOHN DICKERSON: But if, so in that case it seems to be the position is the voters spoke. That's it for the president. So why wouldn't that be the case with Moore? The voters speak, send him to Washington. It's done. Let him serve.

TOM COTTON: Well, that will be an important decision that the people of Alabama will make. Again, if he comes to the Senate because the people of Alabama elect him and someone files a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee, as they apparently have done with Al Franken, then it will be up to the Ethics Committee to weigh the evidence and then all of the individual senators to make a decision based on their findings and recommendations. But I wouldn't want to speculate about hypotheticals in the future.

JOHN DICKERSON: Okay. Let's move on to tax reform. 13 million people will be without coverage if the individual mandate is removed, as you'd like to see, in this tax cut plan. What happens to those 13 million?

TOM COTTON: John, remember what the hated Obamacare mandate is. It fines an American family. They can't afford their insurance. Insurance that Obamacare made unaffordable in the first place. So this bill doesn't cut a single dime from Medicaid. It doesn't cut a single dime from the insurance subsidies. It doesn't change a single regulation under Obamacare.

It simply says the I.R.S. cannot fine you if you cannot afford health insurance. So this has no impact on anyone who wants to get health insurance under Obamacare's individual exchanges, or under the Medicaid expansion, under their employer's plan. It simply says that working families and poor Americans, because four out of five Americans who pay this fine make less than $50,000, will no longer be fined for not being able to afford their insurance.

JOHN DICKERSON: But the estimate is that people won't get insurance. Then they'll get sick. They'll go to emergency rooms. Prices will increase. The premiums will increase also because insurers will be insuring a sicker pool of people. So you've got premiums going up. Which-what's your answer to that?

TOM COTTON: Well, my answer to that is that we need to solve all the problems that Obamacare made worse in our healthcare system. We worked on that over the summer. We failed. I wish that wasn't the case. But we have a tax bill now that will repeal the most hated and unpopular part of Obamacare, the individual mandate, which is nothing more than a tax on working families and poor Americans. I hope next year that we return to health care. But right now I'm focused on this tax bill.

JOHN DICKERSON: But it's also a tax if their premiums go up. And so there will be a little bit of a middle class tax cut as part of this tax cut bill. But then won't, if people's premiums go up, doesn't that negate the benefit of the tax cut?

TOM COTTON: No, John, that's not right. So every income group under the Senate bill will see a tax cut. Now, if you'd voluntarily choose not to get your insurance through the Obamacare premiums, then, yeah, the federal government will not be paying a tax subsidy not to you individually but to an insurance company. But that's the result of a voluntary choice that you make based on your own family's needs and finances.

JOHN DICKERSON: Well, the Joint Committee on Taxation found that these tax cuts expire and some middle income people will see their tax cut go away. But also Lisa Murkowski seems to have a different view. She said, "If the tax cut is offset by higher premiums, you haven't delivered a benefit." So she seems to think that removing the individual mandate does have an effect that negates the benefit of any tax cut as a part of this bill.

TOM COTTON: Well, Senator Murkowski has been a leader on this bill. And part of the bill came out of her committee, the part that deals with exploration for oil and gas in the Arctic Circle. She's also said that she doesn't have any preconditions on this vote. And, you know, remember, the vast majority of people on the Obamacare exchanges are getting subsidies. So if their premiums do go up, they're still going to get higher subsidies.

And also, let's look at what premiums have happened over the last four years with the mandate in place. They've more than doubled since 2013. They're projected to go up by 37% next year. So Obamacare is already failing with the mandate. We shouldn't be fining poor people and working American families because they can't afford the insurance that is going up so much.

JOHN DICKERSON: Although Senator Murkowski does seem to say she does have a precondition, which is that the insurance needs to be stabilized in order for her to vote on the tax cut. But let me ask you one quick question before we go. The Air Force General John Hyten, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, said Saturday he would push back on an order from President Trump to launch nuclear strikes. You're on the Armed Services Committee. He would push back on a nuclear strike that he considered to be illegal. What's your take on that?

TOM COTTON: John, since the dawn of a nuclear age we've recognized the practical reality that the president has to hold in his hands the sole decision to use our nuclear weapons. If there is a first strike against the United States, the president has a matter of minutes. Not hours. Not days. But a matter of minutes to make that decision. So it simply doesn't make sense to have Congress involved in the matter.

However, what we hope to do is to be able to deter any country from ever launching that kind of strike against us whether it's North Korea, or Russia, or China, or any other nuclear power. That's one reason why it's so important that President Trump largely succeeded on his trip to Asia last week to try to put more pressure on Kim Jong-un and North Korea not to use those nuclear weapons in the first place.

JOHN DICKERSON: But in a non-retaliatory situation, you're okay with the way the system works in terms of the president and nuclear codes?

TOM COTTON: Well, it's never been the policy of the United States to renounce the first use of nuclear weapons. It wasn't President Obama's policy either. I hope that we never have to employ our nuclear weapons. We have them to deter. But in a non-retaliatory situation, then, sure, a president has hours or days to make a considered deliberate decision. That's why he has the joint chiefs. That's why he has combatant commanders. That's why he has strategic command and his White House staff to help him develop courses of action.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Senator Cotton, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM COTTON: Thank you, John.